Must the Fate of the Universe Hang on the Line?


I was reading a science fiction book last week. I was content with it for much of the book. It started out on earth with realistic characters. Then, as with all science fiction, things have to get a little far-fetched to make contact with another world. This part was no surprise. Things began to gradually grow more and more unbelievable with the introduction of new creatures with more incredible features. The storyline had been engaging prior to this, so I began to wonder, “Was this necessary?”

Eventually, the story turned into apocalyptic fiction, as the fate of the universe turned out to be at stake. Then I really had to wonder, “Why?”

I didn’t select the book because I was looking for apocalyptic fiction. In fact, I had no idea this was coming. If this element wasn’t there to sell the book to apocalyptic fiction readers, then why was it there? Surprise, you’re reading apocalyptic fiction; you’re halfway through the book, so you might as well keep on reading, like it or not.

It made me reflect how many apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels there are.

Does the fate of the universe really need to be at stake in order to make a book worth reading? If the universe might not end, does that make the book unimportant?

Surely, a book can please readers through storyline, characterization, cool ideas, style, word flow, and other aspects. It shouldn’t have to seem like the most important thing in the universe to be worth reading, right?

Personally, I’d like things to be somewhat less ambitious, somewhat more plausible. However, I’m just one reader, and that’s not a good statistical sample. Many readers do seem to be into apocalyptic fiction. As an author, if you’re hoping to sell more books, you should try to learn the tastes of your specific target audience.

This varies by genre, too. If you’re writing about zombies, post-apocalyptic fiction may be the norm; for a whodunit, this would be an unusual twist.

How do you feel about this? Do you want the fate of the universe to hang in the balance of your novels?

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7 comments on “Must the Fate of the Universe Hang on the Line?

  1. That’s an interesting question. I don’t read much sci-fi, but the “fate of the universe” or at least the world as it currently exists is a common theme in fantasy, too. And the first word that comes to my mind when thinking about this is EPIC. Once the fate of the world is on the line, the stakes are so much higher and the story should theoretically be epic. It also automatically makes the antagonists that much easier for the reader to side against. I’m not saying writers are necessarily using that as a shortcut, just that EPIC has an appeal to me both as a reader and a writer, because it’s something so far beyond the mundane concerns of everyday life that I deal with.

    On the other hand, “fate of the world” type books that lack deeper themes and character development have little appeal to me. I’d rather read a book with smaller stakes and conflicts I can more easily relate to where the themes and characters have real depth and bite.

    • I’ve read many good books where the fate of the world was at stake, but I agree that there has to be much more to it than that; the importance of the situation won’t compensate for things that may be lacking.

  2. Yes, the universe should hang in the balance! Especially if the characters are fantastic, then the reader will care about them. They will care if the universe may end, because it will mean the absence of the characters they so dearly love.

    Chris, I’d love to find out what book it was you read because I’d like to read it because the novel I’m writing is all about the fate of the universe hanging in the balance.

    • I like that about the end of the universe being the end of the characters. 🙂

      I have a short list of books that I’ve enjoyed on the Cool Authors page on my blog. I keep intending to update it and eventually will. I don’t want to mention this particular book now since I didn’t give it the best introduction, but once I finish it, if I recommend it to others, I will add it to that page.

  3. My Shadow People is the first in a series where the fate of the universe is at stake, and it has outlandish characters in it also. I think you have to be a fan of the genre or you’re just going to think these stories are strange. 🙂

    • I think that’s the key for the author: If it’s typical of the genre, it’s probably a good fit for the target audience.

      But as a reader… I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, and much of it is apocalyptic. The first few times, it did seem like a very important event was unfolding. But now, it’s just another apocalypse… I feel I’m becoming desensitized to it. (I guess this is the importance of the book having other attractive elements so that the big event isn’t the only thing drawing attention. The book I mentioned was engaging to begin with, so the apocalypse didn’t really matter.)

      Or maybe this is just my cue to check out some other genres (something I’ve been tempted to do anyway, since there are so many appealing books). 🙂

      • Mine probably isn’t typical, but you’re right about getting desensitized. I’ve joined a really great book club now and am enjoying reading what I normally would never have even noticed let alone bought.

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